The title of this book (The Dirtiest Race in History, By Richard Moore) refers to the 1988 Olympic Games 100 m sprint final (see a video of the race). This was perhaps the most thrilling sprint in Olympic history, but within 48 hours the gold medalist Ben Johnson had tested positive for anabolic steroids and the scandal and stories had begun. However, the full story did not begin with this race, but many years earlier.
The book follows the development of the two main combatants, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, from when they started sprinting; building a deep rivalry between them that fascinated the athletics world, culminating in the infamous race referred to in the title. The author Richard Moore was able to interview Johnson who gave some interesting insights into that period, but unfortunately Lewis was not available.
In the concluding pages of this book, we are given details of each of the competitors in this infamous race. It may be no surprise that ultimately most of them were tainted by drugs at some point in their career, possibly this is the message the book is trying to make. This may be the story about Ben and Carl, but it also defines the period in athletics history where drug use was widespread, and the fledgling anti-doping program had only started the game of catch-up.
It is with no surprise that we hear the news that another sporting hero has fallen foul of the law. Although the full details are yet to emerge, it seems like the 2012 Olympian and multiple-Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, also known as the ‘Blade Runner’, may have murdered his girlfriend.
I posted about him recently, saying he was not the first disabled athlete to compete at the Olympics. Not only that, but now he may also not be the first sporting hero to cross to the dark side. Is Oscar Pistorius our next anti-hero?
I have compiled just a shortlist of athletes who have done something bad, labeling them anti-heroes (my title). I don’t think there are more bad people in sports, probably the opposite. There may be a higher level of arrogance in some sports stars, but generally being the focus of public attention keeps them on the straight and narrow.
When one slips up, it is big news, as it is now with Pistorius.
Modern pentathlon is not the most popular of world sports, but maybe the International Olympic Committee can see that it has potential. The sport, which was created for the Olympics, was highlighted by many as the one to be dropped from the Olympic program, but was saved for now when wrestling was dropped from the core sports list.
Despite being modern by name, the sport based on the skills of the ideal cavalry soldier is not currently relevant to many people. It has been trying to modernize itself, looking at changing the event so it can be completed in a single day and all at the same venue, making it more spectator friendly.
The concept of the sport is great, the challenge to find the ultimate all-round-athlete – competing in the very different disciplines of shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian and running. Let’s get it on prime time TV, add some dancing girls and loud music, and they could be onto a winner.
[update: modern pentathlon has been updated, and the competition is now held over just one day, a much more exciting concept]
The IOC has voted to drop wrestling from the list of core Olympic Games sports, a necessary step to make room for more relevant sports for today. Wrestling still has a chance to be on the program, though it will now join the seven shortlisted sports which are aiming for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program: baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu.
You can vote for which sport you think should be included in the Olympics. It is very unlikely that wrestling will be added back on the program, maybe something cool like climbing should be added. Dropping wrestling was a surprise to me, as it seemed like modern pentathlon was on the chopping block. There are a few other sports that should possibly be eliminated.
The word from an IOC inside source indicated that wrestling was voted out from a final group that also included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, which gives an idea of which sports may next be on the chopping block. It seems like there is a bit more culling to do.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the South African runner Oscar Pistorius (also known as the ‘Blade Runner’). Pistorius was born without fibulas and with deformities of his feet, and subsequently had both his legs amputated below the knee when he was only 11 months old. He competes with carbon fiber prosthetic legs, and is entered in the 400m and the 4 x 400 m relay races at the 2012 Olympics. This is a great story of achievement, though he has had to overcome a lot more than just his disability to reach the Olympics, having many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome too to get his place on the South African team. Even though he has been hailed by many as the first disabled athlete to compete at the Olympics, he is in fact part of a long history of disabled athletes to do so.
Some media have reported correctly that Pistorius is the first “double” amputee to compete at the Olympic Games. There has been other amputees missing portions of one leg who have competed at the Olympics, and some have even won gold medals. In 1904 American gymnast George Eyser won three gold medals for the vault, parallel bars and rope climbing. Eyser lost a leg when he was a kid in a train accident, and competed wearing a wooden leg. From 1928 to 1936, Hungarian Oliver Halassy won two golds and one silver in water polo. He achieved this despite missing his left leg that had been amputated below the knee following a childhood streetcar accident. Another amputee to compete at the Olympics is South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, who is missing her left leg. She came 16th in the open water 10km swim in 2008.
These are just some examples – there are many more disabled athletes who have participated at the Olympics, including other amputees, those that were blind, paraplegic or affected by polio. See more on Disabled Athletes at the Olympics, and also about the Paralympics.
With the Olympic Games starting now, I feel like it is time for me to make my predictions for the final medal tally. It seems like everyone else is doing it. I have discussed a few prediction models on this site that use science and results from recent competitions. My prediction is based on something a little less scientific, my gut feeling and reflection, so don’t place too much emphasis on it. It will be interesting to see how my list performs compared to the other predictions, only time and a bit of number crunching will tell.
Here is my final top 10 predictions for gold medals won:
26 Great Britain
8 South Korea
UPDATE: Now that the Olympics are over, it is time to score how well my predictions were. I got the first four in order. The only country I did not predict to make the top 10 was Hungary, which finished 9th on the official table with 8 golds, pushing Japan outside the top 10. How accurate were these predictions? Using my analysis method comparing the top five actual to the predicted medals for those countries, I achieved an percentage accuracy score of 85%, only just below the best by Goldman Sachs (87%), out of all the medal predictions for 2012.
Outside of the Olympic period, you rarely see swimming, gymnastics, and track & field televised, and there are no stadiums full of spectators at these sports every week. The reality is that they are not that interesting to watch – except at the time of the Olympics it seems. It is football (whatever code), basketball, baseball, cricket and many other sports that are more popular with the fans week in and week out. At Olympic time, unfortunately, it is not just the sports fans that are watching, so the most entertaining sports are not necessarily the most watched and getting the most attention.
I recently wrote about Women Olympic Games Pioneers in which I discussed some of the early women participants at the Olympics, and the slow move to equality in women’s participation at the Olympic Games. There have been some great moves towards creating the opportunity for women to compete in the same sports as the men, with the inclusion of women’s boxing now completing the set so there are women’s events in all sports on the program. This is a great thing, but the reality is that there are huge barriers for women to even compete in any sport in some countries of the world, let alone the Olympic Games.
Up until now, three Muslim countries have never before sent a female athlete to compete at the Olympics: Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter clearly promotes equality: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind.” However, the IOC seems to be doing very little to support the women competitors from these countries.
Each of these countries has made comments that suggest there may be sending some female participants to London, but we will have to wait and see. If Qatar is serious about their bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, they need to send a clear message to the IOC, as it seems the IOC is not sending any clear messages back at them.
March 21st, 2012 · Comments Off on Women Olympic Games Pioneers · Olympic Games
With the addition of women’s boxing to the Olympics for 2012, all sports on the program now have events for women. However, women have had a long road to equality at the Olympics. There are some interesting stories and little known facts about early female participation in the Olympic Games.
The Ancient Olympic Games was limited to males athletes only, and they had to be free and Greek speaking too, with only male spectators allowed as the athletes participated in the nude! The only way women were able to take part was to enter horses in the equestrian events. There are records of several winning women horse owners. As the owner of the horse teams, they were credited with the victory, though they were most likely not present at the events.
Following on from the Ancient Olympics, women were also not invited to the first edition of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Women participated for the first time at the 1900 Paris Games with the inclusion of women’s events in lawn tennis and golf. There were also three French women competing in croquet and there was at least one woman sailor as part of mixed crews.
It is commonly believed that first woman to win an Olympic event was England’s Charlotte Cooper, who won the tennis singles title and also the mixed doubles event. However, a month or two earlier Swiss sailor Hélène de Pourtalès won a gold medal as part of a team in the 1-2 ton Olympic sailing event. Charlotte Cooper is clearly the first woman Olympic champion, as winner of the women’s tennis singles tournament, though Hélène de Pourtalès should be rightly heralded as the first woman to compete at the Olympics and the first female Olympic gold medalist.
March 19th, 2012 · Comments Off on Little Known Olympic Games Countries · Olympic Games
You would be surprised about some of the countries that have once participated at the Olympic Games. Regions such as Saarland and Bohemia participated at previous Games, but no longer exist independently. The Saar existed from 1947 to 1956 in part of Western Germany that was occupied by France, and only competed at one Olympics in 1952 before joining Germany. Bohemia athletes competed at the Olympic Games between 1900-1912. After World War I, Bohemia became part of the new Czechoslovakia, which itself lasted until 1993 when it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Then there are short lived unions, such as The United Arab Republic which was made up of Egypt and Syria, and the West Indies Federation, a combined team from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. Both of these teams competed at the Olympics only once, in 1960.
What about athletes with no team – athletes from Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia competed as Independent Olympic Participants in 1992, and athletes from East Timor competed as Individual Olympic Athletes at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Also, after the break up of the Soviet Union, the independent states competed under the banner of The Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
I wonder which teams competing in 2012 in London will one day join this list of past teams. Border disputes and wars will continue, and the countries of the world will continue to evolve. But, no matter what, most athletes will have a country to compete for, even though the names may change.